Publicly commissioned art overflows with value

Madison’s newest art installation has already garnered headlines, but the economic ripple effect of privately commissioned art is the real story.

Artist Jonathan Brown of Houston-based Modern Mosaics has been hard at work for the past week overseeing the final stages of installation of his massive 123-foot by 15-foot lighted waterfall mural at the 316 W. Washington Ave. building owned by Hovde Properties (a live video feed of the final stages of installation can be viewed here). But Brown isn’t the only one who’s helped bring this project to life.

Along with his Modern Mosaics team, Brown has collaborated with a number of Madison-area firms, including Pierce Engineers, Dimension IV Madison Design Group, H&H Electric, Snowforest, Hovde Properties, and CODAworx.

All told, this project has been almost two years in the making.

According to Nick Anderson, online marketing manager for CODAworx, Hovde Properties hired his firm in January 2015 for its RFP Toolkit Concierge Service to find and hire an experienced commissioned artist.

The idea for the commissioned work came from Eric Hovde himself, Anderson says. “Hovde was doing a massive remodel of the 316 W. Wash building, and with the expansive front facade they wanted an original artwork on the exterior of the building. Eric Hovde comes from the standpoint that developers need to make their properties unique. He also wanted to add artwork because this exterior is in the heart of downtown Madison, and the art would thus benefit the entire city, not just the building itself.”

While Anderson says a number of artists from Wisconsin and neighboring states were among the applicants for the project, it was Brown’s vision that ultimately won out.

“Jonathan’s initial design and submission was not this final art concept,” notes Anderson. “The commissioners loved his style from his proposal though. He worked very closely with the commissioning agents to create a design concept that they liked and wanted, and that went along with his own artistic vision.”

Anderson says the collaboration of artist and commissioning agents can be a very fruitful one. “The artist can bring creativity and innovation to ideas that are generated from a committee. There are lots of checks and balances in the process, and in this era with digital designs the presented design and versions can be so specifically represented in digital design that the final product will match what was presented.”

Artful matchmaking

CODAworx played a unique role in facilitating the process of matching the project to the artist.

Artist Jonathan Brown inspects one of the many mosaic panels used in his lighted waterfall mural. Photo © Ting-Li Lin/Snowforest

Anderson says CODAworx is considered a “hub of the commissioned art economy” and its website functions as an online professional community for commissioned artists — similar to LinkedIn. “We offer solutions for our community to ‘showcase, hire, and get hired.’ Artists can showcase their work online and find commissions around the world.”

The CODA of CODAworx stands for the “Collaboration of Design + Art,” Anderson notes. “We are a network for all of the collaborators on a commissioned art project, including the commissioner, creative team, and the industry resources, like fabricators, lighting, shipping, installation, and photography.”

Hovde Properties previously tapped CODAworx to help find an artist to create a unique piece of artwork for the lobby of Ovation 309. The Hovde Team was determined to find and hire an artist or artist team experienced in creating commissioned artwork, but commissioning art was a new endeavor for Hovde Properties. They didn’t know the process for commissioning an artist, or have the network or resources available to reach artists of the desired level of talent.

CODAworx enabled Hovde to select from among 1,700 qualified artists, ultimately narrowing it down to 151 applicants and 12 finalists before selecting the artist team of David Dahlquist and Matt Niebuhr.

“I’m a big fan of CODAworx,” says Eric Hovde, CEO, Hovde Properties. “We would never have had access to all the artists. They were invaluable throughout the whole process. I don’t know why you would ever try to do it on your own. It would just be so much more time and you’re not going to have anywhere near the end result.”



After the Ovation 309 building opened with the new art, Hovde noted the overwhelmingly positive response of his tenants and how much they love witnessing new art as they enter Ovation 309. And “it’s helped me rent out my buildings quicker,” Hovde says.

For this latest project at 316 W. Washington Ave., CODAworx helped Hovde find a perfect match in Jonathan Brown and his Modern Mosaics team.

Brown founded Modern Mosaics in 1991. The company has many large-scale museum quality installations in health care facilities, corporate structures, hospitality, outdoor environments, and numerous private collections.

“Here we had a building built in the early 70s in the Brutalism style, which is unappealing,” Hovde explains. “We are totally retrofitting the building, and the signature will become the significant piece of art in the middle that will make that building stand out amongst all the buildings downtown. So what was once probably the most non-descript, borderline ugly building will become one of the most well-known, talked-about buildings in Madison after the art is fully installed.”

Value of art for everyone

It will be hard to miss the gigantic LED waterfall mural at 316 W. Washington Ave. once it’s complete, and that’s the point.

This art is for everybody to enjoy, and its benefits should extend well beyond the artist and the commissioners.

Workers prepare the facade of the 316. W. Washington Ave. building for the mural installation. Photo © Ting-Li Lin/Snowforest

“Art can revitalize the downtown, and it can drive tourism,” notes Anderson. “This 316 W. Wash building used to be an outdated, unattractive building downtown, and now it is going to be a beautiful aesthetic addition to the Isthmus. The installation of the art also brought jobs to Madison because out of the 11 businesses that collaborated with Jonathan’s team, six were local to Madison.”

The original budget for what became the waterfall mural was $100,000, and the budget has since expanded to over $500,000, notes Anderson. Only a portion of that fee goes to the artist. The artist allocates the rest to materials, lighting, shipping, installation, and outsourcing to various contractors.

According to Anderson, many cities across the United States have adopted a “Percent for Art” program where 1–2% of aboveground public development budgets and sometimes 1–2% of private development budgets are allocated for art.

“This is an initiative to both beautify and create a sense of place with unique landmarks and spaces for the community,” explains Anderson. “Madison is behind the times and does not have a Percent for Art program, so it is up to private developers like Hovde Properties to uphold the value of commissioned art and make it a priority in development. Commissioned art has the power to set the tone for a community of tenants and communicate an aesthetic to the greater public.”

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